The Way Forward: Survival 2100

| October 31, 2018 | Leave a Comment

Labadee, Haiti by steviep187 | Flickr | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Our thoughts are with the people of Haiti and other areas affected by Hurricane Matthew

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Media Type: Article - Recent

Date of Publication: May 2012

Year of Publication: 2012

Author(s): William Rees

Journal: Solutions

Volume: 3

Pages: 32-36

Categories: , ,

Industrialised world reductions in material throughput, energy use, and environmental degradation of over 90% will be required by 2040 to meet the needs of a growing world population fairly within the planet’s ecological means. Business Council for Sustainable Development1

It’s not as if we’re unaware of the problem. Symptoms were already so persistent two decades ago that a proclamation by many of the world’s top scientists warned that “a great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it is required if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.”2 This assertion was echoed a dozen years later by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment’s no less urgent warning that “human activity is putting such a strain on the natural functions of the earth that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted.”3

One might think that humanity’s best science would be enough to stimulate a decisive policy response, but the feeble effort so far has done little to stem the cumulative cascade of dismal data. No national government, no prominent international agency, no corporate leader anywhere has begun to advocate in public, let alone implement, the kind of evidence-based, visionary, morally coherent policy responses that are called forth by the best science available today.

In theory, Homo sapiens is uniquely equipped to confront this self-made crisis. Four critical intellectual and emotional qualities distinguish people from other advanced vertebrates. Humans have

  • an unequaled capacity for evidence-based reasoning and logical analysis;
  • the unique ability to engage in long-term forward planning;
  • the capacity to exercise moral judgment; and
  • an ability to feel compassion for other individuals and other species.

A necessary first step would be to acknowledge that globalization encourages the externalization of ecological and social costs (think climate change). Many goods and services are therefore underpriced in the marketplace and thus overconsumed. As any good economist will acknowledge, government intervention is legitimate and necessary to correct for gross market failure. Indeed, resistance to reform makes hypocrites of those who otherwise tout the virtues of market economies. Truly efficient markets require the internalization of heretofore hidden costs so that prices tell consumers the truth.


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  • Greeley Miklashek

    “A necessary first step” is to realize that we are today over 2,885 times as many as were our pre-agricultural revolution ancestral hunter-gatherer clans of 12,000 years ago, with the obvious increased demands on the natural environment. NO-ONE WANTS TO FACE THE TRUTH OF HUMAN OVERPOPULATION as the driving force behind our environmental problems. All the neo-liberal moralizing and hand-wringing in the world won’t save the planet, unless we face the reality of human overpopulation and make personal, individual choices to restrict our reproduction to one-child families. Even if the entire world were to immediately adopt such a plan, we would not reach 1950 worldwide population levels of 2.5 billion (1/3 of the current population) until 2,100. As the prospect for humanity to WAKE THE HELL UP and limit our reproduction and consumption is admittedly slim to none, moralizing is a waste of time and bytes. Maybe this will get your attention: POPULATION DENSITY STRESS IS KILLING US NOW, through nearly all of our ubiquitous “diseases of civilization”. None of our diseases are found in traditional living migratory hunter-gatherers, many of whom have been recently photographed in Jimmy Nelson’s wonderful books. We have had to accommodate our exploding numbers in a man-made physical environment which is so stress inducing that our stress response is over-active, pouring out the cytotoxic hormone cortisol and driving nearly all of our increasing health problems. How’s that motivation problem now? Still don’t give a damn about human overpopulation? Fine. Now, you get to watch your offspring get sick and die, as you and the rest of us Americans down our life-saving 4.3 billion Rx annually. Pass the pill bottle. Stress R Us